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Has NCLB Enhanced Career and Technical Education?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By D. Susanne Force
July 19, 2016

I have three children who are about as different as different could be. One chose a career field as a program analyst. Another is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music performance. Lastly, my recent high school graduate is passionate about being an automotive mechanic. Three very different pathways in the public school system; not always equally supported by federal and state funding or given the opportunity of curriculum choices that would prepare them for their future career dreams and goals.

force 1In fact, my youngest child struggled immensely in navigating and successfully passing mandatory graduation requirements that included a statewide assessment in addition to courses such as language arts, algebra, geometry and biology in his public school district. These assessments and graduation requirements were instituted as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), a restructuring of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

The primary focus of NCLB is to ensure that students in every public school achieve important learning goals while being educated by well-prepared, highly-effective teachers. This is accomplished by requiring all states to develop evaluations in basic skills for students in all grades. These assessments are then used to determine which schools are eligible and in need of federal funding. However, one of the criticisms about NCLB is that the emphasis on math and reading tests have narrowed the curriculum, forcing schools to spend less time on subjects that aren’t explicitly tested like social studies, foreign languages, the arts and vocational/technical courses.

A recent study by researchers at Rice University and the University of Texas-Austin reported that the Texas’ public school accountability system, which was the model for the national No Child Left Behind Act, concluded that NCLB directly contributes to lower graduation rates.

“High-stakes, test-based accountability doesn’t lead to school improvement or equitable educational possibilities,” said Linda McSpadden McNeil, director of the Center for Education at Rice University. “It leads to avoidable losses of students. Inherently the system creates a dilemma for principals: comply or educate. Unfortunately, we found that compliance means losing students.”

One of my concerns about NCLB legislation is that through state and federal mandates, it has forced educational leaders to emphasize student enrollment in courses that prepare them for post-secondary educational opportunities that require a stronger background in academic courses. Currently, NCLB does not support or positively enhance student career pathways choosing to take career and technical education (CTE) courses at the secondary education level.

force 2Traditionally, CTE programs have been viewed as an educational track for lower-achieving students or students needing special learning accommodations. In order to satisfy NCLB, these students are required to take remedial courses until they could demonstrate proficiency. This has a tendency in the educational system to block out certain students from participating in CTE programs or reducing the opportunity to take CTE classes by requiring them to take mandatory remedial classes. Sadly, because CTE courses in many cases do not meet core accreditation requirements in most states, school districts view CTE programs as less worthy of funding. As a result, there is the likelihood of fewer CTE courses being offered at the school level.

Another concern is that the public’s and state legislatures’ perception of CTE programs is that students who participate in CTE courses are lacking academic rigor. I disagree. CTE serves many functions for secondary school students in that it keeps them interested and engaged in school, allows exploration of profession options, helps gain work-related skills and enhances their academic studies.

The U.S. economy is facing record numbers of working age people with specialized vocational and technical skill sets retiring and leaving the workforce. In the very near future, businesses will the challenge of finding skilled workers to fill these shoes. These include positions such as mechanics, welders, engineers, electricians, plumbers and computer technicians.

As Bob Funk, the president of Express Services, which matches almost one-half million temporary workers with employers each year stated, “If you have a useful skill, we can find you a job. But too many are graduating from high school and college without any skills at all.”

Hopefully, the thoughts contained in this article will ignite conversations among educational and legislative leadership to address transforming public education to meet the need for and challenges of inclusivity in career and technical education in secondary schools. Along with these conversations, rethinking models of how to monitor student success may also need to be redefined.

I know that for my child, the support of two parents consistently researching and advocating for curriculum options and opportunities made it possible for him to reach his dreams and goals as a high school graduate. Not every student has this type of support and opportunity. This is why it is crucial in the future for educational, state and federal leaders to analyze and address NCLB’s effect on CTE curriculum and student success.


Author: D. Susanne Force is currently an HR specialist in Employee and Government Relations for a public school district. She holds a Master of Art degree in Human Resources from Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Central Florida in Behavioral/Social Science with a minor in Public Administration.  Email contact: [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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